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4 Ways to Listen In to Boost Action

There’s a proven way for your organization to start and strengthen vital relationships with the people whose support, loyalty, and actions you want—donors, volunteers, and even staff (too often overlooked here).

This approach is easy to learn and execute. And it’s something you do on a personal level all the time: Getting to know and understand others with whom you want to build a friendship—learning what’s important to them and how their days go. These insights enable you to focus in on what’s important or interesting to both of you, and how best to keep in touch via a commonly-used channel (social, mobile, text, mail) at the time that your folks will be most receptive.

Here are four proven methods of harvesting these priceless insights:

1) Launch a Marketing Advisory Group

Begin by identifying your target audiences and prioritize segments of each that share wants, needs and preferences. Then put together a marketing advisory group incorporating as many of these perspectives as possible—that way you’ll have the right person to turn to when you need her. In addition, this group will provide a solid diversity of opinion when you solicit input on a specific campaign or message.

Next, invite prospective team members to participate. If you don’t have people in mind that represent all the perspectives you need, ask program or other colleagues for recommendations.

Make sure to specify your expectations and to keep them modest. I recommend that you ask team members to help at most once or twice a month, asking for no more than 5 to 10 minutes of their time for each ask.

Put your marketing advisors to work in the way it’s most beneficial—that may vary depending on the task at hand. Ask a few of them for input on draft messages for the new advocacy campaign  and a few others for a critique of the draft mini-site for the campaign. Or ask all of them to complete a brief online survey to share their perception of the new program and the gap it will fill. Whatever your decision, make sure you ask with thought and don’t overburden your advisors. Most importantly, thank them frequently and often.

Try it for six months, refining the program over time to be of greatest value for you and least burden for your marketing advisory team. When you do, I promise you’ll know, and connect with, your audiences better than ever before.

2) Listen to Social Conversations

There’s so much being said online—about your organization, causes or issues, campaigns, and organizations you compete with for donations and attention—that you’ll learn a lot by just listening. By monitoring social channels for conversation on relevant topics, you’ll see what resonates and why, enabling you to better engage your people.

Keep in mind that with this kind of social listening, you won’t necessarily know who’s talking and how that person maps (if at all) to your targets. Nonetheless, if there’s a groundswell of conversation on a topic important to your organization, you want to hear it.

Social monitoring options range from free tools like Google Alerts to paid social listening services such as Attentive.ly that illuminate what people in your email file (donors, volunteers, email subscribers and others) are saying on social media and help identify who is influential to improve targeting and increase engagement. This early case study from Attentive.ly really caught my attention:

A few days after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), noticed a significant shift in focus on social media to the hashtag #Ferguson. They could quickly see that terms such as “police” started trending, nationally and among supporters in AFSC’s database (CRM).

AFSC created a saved search to see exactly who in its CRM was talking about Ferguson on Facebook and Twitter. Next, they invited those supporters to a Google Hangout that resulted in record-high participation and 74 donations. That’s incredible targeting!

3) Ask & Listen in Your Social Communities

If your organization has an active community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other interactive platforms, you have a focus group ready to roll. Before you just ask, and ask, and ask again, prioritize what you want to know. Also, decide how to filter and weigh what you hear since your social communities may not map exactly to your donors and prospects.

Here are a few ways to use Facebook to get to know more about your people:

  • Since you can easily run your organization’s donor or email list against Facebook subscribers who have liked your page, it’s easier to map responses to your prioritized audiences.
  • Facebook’s Live Video tool is an excellent way to gather quick feedback on a draft logo, design, message, or email format (anything, in fact, easy to view via an online video) IF you have a huge and active following on Facebook.
  • Polling is super easy to set up and respond to.

4) Ask Folks as They’re Leaving a Program or Event

This technique is ages old but works well, as long as you ask just one or two quick questions. If your question is brief, ask verbally. If you want to gather names or have a couple of questions, then have pens and printed mini-surveys or tablets on hand for responses. If the event is online, pop up a quick survey before the finish.

BUT these insights boost actions ONLY when you…
Capture, Analyze, and Share What You Learn, then ACT on it

Keep in mind that what you learn about your audiences is valuable only when you log, share, and analyze it across your organization.

This process will position you to put your findings to work most effectively right now. Then go one step further to extend their value by adding these insights to supporter data. That’s your path to getting closer than ever with your people, and activating them to move your mission forward. Go to it, friends.

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Your Annual Report’s Opening Message:
6 Ways to Motivate Readers

Thanks to guest blogger, Kimberlee Roth, one of our team’s valued writers. Kim has written for the Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among other publications, and provides writing and editing services to universities, health systems and other nonprofits.

I harbor no ill will toward opening messages. In fact, I believe they can be an important component of a nonprofit’s annual report. When done well–well being the operative word–they provide context for the rest of the publication. They personalize it and make it more immediate, and they help point readers to key information and calls to action.

That said, most opening messages, those “letters from the executive director,” make me want to get out my figurative red pen and edit away (at best) or, at worst, put the publication down or close my browser window. Of course you want your annual report’s welcome to excite readers and motivate them to read from cover to cover. Here’s how:

1) Keep it Short
I can’t emphasize this enough. Short is a few succinct paragraphs, a half page, 200-300 words. Short is not asking your graphic designer to “make it fit,” leaving audiences to squint at six-point font. Assume your reader is scanning. Make it easy to read. Use subheadings and bullet points. Hit the high points and move on.

If this sounds impossible–if you feel like it’s your one chance to say everything to everyone–then it might be a good time to revisit your communications plan. That feeling, and the resulting letter that goes on forever, could be a clue that you’re not regularly and consistently talking with all your constituents the rest of the year.

2) Keep the Salutation Simple
“Dear Friends”–or something similar–is great. You don’t need to spell out each audience, unless you want to waste several lines of valuable real estate (your letter is brief, remember?).

3) Keep the Tone Conversational
Keep it professional and formal, yes, but not stilted or distant. Somewhere between, “Hey, what’s up?” and “Dear Sir or Madam.”

Don’t be afraid to let some personality shine through either. Conveying the director’s sincere excitement about a particular accomplishment, his or her sense of humor, or a personal note or observation–these all make your opening message and, as a result, the whole report more engaging.

4) Show Awareness
I once edited a “letter from the director” for a client who had a fantastic year. Unfortunately, though, colleagues at similar organizations did not fare so well. Talking about all the great things that happened without acknowledging others’ challenges during the long, hard recession felt wrong. It was nearly a missed opportunity to show camaraderie and gratitude. Phrases such as “In spite of difficult economic times, we were fortunate to … ” can go a long way.

5) Keep it Candid and Transparent
Not a good idea to say how great the year was if it wasn’t. You can highlight the good while still being honest about areas you know need addressing. Your donors and other supporters want to know that you’re working to improve and that their time and/or money isn’t being wasted.

6) End with a Positive Note and Call to Action
Hint at a few things you’re excited about for the coming year, keep your ending hopeful but not artificial, and invite readers to do something–join you on social media sites, sign up for your newsletter, make a donation before the year ends, volunteer at an event, respond to a survey. Instead of making them drowsy, get them engaged–not only in reading your annual report but supporting your cause.

What techniques do you use to engage readers with your annual report’s opening letter?

Ramp Up Your Marketing Budget to What You REALLY Need: Nonprofit Marketing Budgets, Part 2

Dive into this second installment in my series to learn how to get what it takes to fund your nonprofit marketing plan. You’ll find Part One here.

Q: OK, now I get how much it’s going to take to do our marketing right. How do you propose we ramp up our marketing dollars from zero to what we really need?

A: Connect the dots between your marketing goals and what it will take to get there.

Start by reviewing your marketing goals (or articulating them, if you haven’t already) to ensure they represent the best way you can put marketing to work to advance your organizational goals. Once you review those goals with leadership, and get approval, then clearly and concretely connect the dots between your proposed budget and what you want to accomplish in a way that’s easily accessible. Your goal is to translate the actions outlined in the plan — what it will take to meet those goals — into expense.

In most cases, achieving marketing goals requires financial outlay in addition to human resource (time, effort and skills; in-house or outsourced). There’s no way out of it: You have to pay for services such as reliable web hosting, flexible email marketing tools and postage. And if you want to design a high-impact website, analyze targeted email marketing or implement successful fundraising campaigns, there’s a price tag associated with doing that well.

All too frequently the barrier to a sufficient budget is that your colleagues (staff and leadership) don’t understand what communications really is, what it can accomplish and what it takes to do it really well. I recommend you guide them to that understanding by sharing your marketing plan (talking through it is far more effective than simply circulating the document) and making that clear connection between goals and budget in a one-page spreadsheet.

When you do, you’ll find that budgeting is a completely different way of looking at your marketing work, serving as both a clear framework for your decision-making on wants vs. “nice-to-haves” and a powerful tool for getting the marketing dollars you need to meet agreed-upon goals.

Nonprofit Marketing Budgets: Part One

What’s the barrier to getting the budget you need to achieve approved marketing goals?